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Lenore
A Poem by Edgar Allan Poe (1809-1849)
A Study Guide
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Type of Work
Summary
Themes
Lenore: A Favorite Poe Name
Internal and End Rhyme
Alliteration
Text With Annotations
1831 Text
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Notes and Annotation by Michael J. Cummings..© 2006
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Type of Work and Dates of Publication

......."Lenore" is a poem first published in 1831 as "A Paean." Poe revised and published the poem under the title "Lenore" in 1843 and 1845. The poem appeared again in a collection of Poe's works published in 1850, after his death. The poem analyzed on this page is the revised version. It is this version that appears in most anthologies and other books available today. Which version is better, the original or the revised, is debatable. 

Summary

.......Upon the death of a beautiful young woman named Lenore, a mourner (Stanza 1) praises her as "saintly" and reproaches her fiancé, Guy de Vere, for not shedding tears. The mourner then suggests that the funeral begin and that everyone sing a song of lamentation for Lenore. De Vere (in Stanza 2) then accuses the mourner and his friends of hypocrisy, saying they loved only Lenore's wealth. He also says they slandered her. In Stanza 3, the mourner, acknowledging that he and his friends have faults, tells de Vere not to "rave" and renews his call for a solemn song. De Vere, he says, is angry because Lenore died before he could marry her. De Vere then says he will not mourn for Lenore but instead rejoice that her soul rose to heaven, to a golden throne reserved for her next to God Himself. 

Themes

Undying Love

.......Guy de Vere continues to love Lenore even after she has died. His vigorous defense of her reputation and his concern for her well-being in the afterlife testify to the depth of his love.

Hypocrisy

.......Mourners shed false tears for Lenore, perhaps because they expect to receive bequests from her estate. This interpretation of the attitude of the mourners depends on the reliability of Guy de Vere's testimony against them. 

The Tragedy of Early Death

.......Literature swells with poetry and prose about people who die young. For example, works by Sophocles (Antigone), Shakespeare (Romeo and Juliet, Hamlet), Turgenev (Fathers and Sons), and Housman (To an Athlete Dying Young) all focus on characters who die in their teens or twenties. Poe turned early death—in particular, the early death of young women—into a cottage industry in such works as Annabel Lee, Eulalie, The Fall of the House of Usher, Ligeia, The Raven, To Helen, and Ulalume.

Lenore: A Favorite Poe Name

.......Poe apparently liked the name Lenore. He made it the main character of  three of his poems: "Al Aaraaf," "Lenore," and "The Raven." Lenore is a variation of Eleanor, Eleanora, Helen, Leonora, Lenora, and Lenonore

Internal Rhyme and End Rhyme

.......Poe uses internal rhyme, as well as end rhyme, in "Lenore." Note, for example, the internal rhymes (highlighted in blue) and the end rhymes (of final syllables only, highlighted in red) in the following lines:

    Ah, broken is the golden bowl! the spirit flown forever!
    Let the bell toll!—a saintly soul floats on the Stygian river;
    And, Guy de Vere, hast thou no tear?—weep now or never more!
    See! on yon drear and rigid bier low lies thy love, Lenore!
    (Lines 1-4 of Stanza 1)

    The sweet Lenore hath "gone before," with Hope, that flew beside,
    Leaving thee wild for the dear child that should have been thy bride.
    For her, the fair and debonair, that now so lowly lies,
    The life upon her yellow hair but not within her eyes
    The life still there, upon her hair—the death upon her eyes.
    (Lines 3-7 of Stanza 3)

Also, in four instances, Poe rhymes the middle syllable of one line with the middle syllable of one or two following lines. At the same time, he maintains end rhyme:
    Come! let the burial rite be read—the funeral song be sung!—
    An anthem for the queenliest dead that ever died so young-
    A dirge for her the doubly dead in that she died so young.
    (Lines 5-7 of Stanza 1)

    "Wretches! ye loved her for her wealth and hated her for her pride,
    And when she fell in feeble health, ye blessed her—that she died!
    (Lines 1-2 of Stanza 2)

    For her, the fair and debonair, that now so lowly lies,
    The life upon her yellow hair but not within her eyes
    The life still there, upon her hair—the death upon her eyes.
    (Lines 5-7 of Stanza 3)

    And I!—to-night my heart is light!—no dirge will I upraise,
    But waft the angel on her flight with a Paean of old days!"
    (Lines 6-7 of Stanza 4)

Alliteration

.......Alliteration plays an important role in "Lenore," as in other poems of Poe, in that it helps to maintain rhythm and musicality. Note, for example, the alliterating words (highlighted) in Stanza 1: 

    Ah, broken is the golden bowl! the spirit flownforever!
    Let the bell toll!—a saintly soul floats on the stygian river;
    And, Guy de Vere, hast thou no tear?—weep now or never more!
    See! on yon drear and rigid bier low lies thy love, Lenore!
    Come! let the burial rite be read—the funeral song be sung!—
    An anthem for the queenliest dead that ever died so young—
    A dirge for her the doubly dead in that she died so young.
Author Information

.......Edgar Allan Poe was born on January 19, 1809, in Boston. After being orphaned at age two, he was taken into the home of a childless couple—John Allan, a successful businessman in Richmond, Va., and his wife. Allan was believed to be Poe’s godfather. At age six, Poe went to England with the Allans and was enrolled in schools there. After he returned with the Allans to the U.S. in 1820, he studied at private schools, then attended the University of Virginia and the U.S. Military Academy, but did not complete studies at either school. 
.......After beginning his literary career as a poet and prose writer, he married his young cousin, Virginia Clemm. He worked for several magazines and joined the staff of the New York Mirror newspaper in 1844. All the while, he was battling a drinking problem. After the Mirror published his poem “The Raven” in January 1845, Poe achieved national and international fame. 
.......Besides pioneering the development of the short story, Poe invented the format for the detective story as we know it today. He also was an outstanding literary critic. Despite the acclaim he received, he was never really happy because of his drinking and because of the deaths of several people close to him, including his wife in 1847. He frequently had trouble paying his debts. It is believed that heavy drinking was a contributing cause of his death in Baltimore on October 7, 1849. 

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Lenore
By Edgar Allan Poe
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Text, Summaries, and Notes
1

Ah, broken is the golden bowl!—the spirit flown forever!
Let the bell toll!—a saintly soul floats on the Stygian river:
And, Guy de Vere, hast thou no tear?—weep now or never more!
See! on yon drear and rigid bier low lies thy love, Lenore!
Come! let the burial rite be read—the funeral song be sung!—
An anthem for the queenliest dead that ever died so young—
A dirge for her the doubly dead in that she died so young.

Stanza 1 Summary: The speaker is an insincere relative or acquaintance of Lenore. He asks that the bell toll for her as her soul floats into the afterlife. Lenore's lover, Guy de Vere, should weep for her, the speaker says, as she lies on a bier awaiting the funeral. He then directs the the funeral rite to begin asks the mourners to sing a dirge for this queenly woman who was so young when death claimed her. 

broken . . . bowl: An allusion to Chapter 12, Verse 6, of Ecclesiastes (Old Testament). The golden bowl symbolized life. Breaking it symbolized death. 
Stygian River: In Greek mythology, the River Styx, which surrounds the Underworld, or Hades. A boatman, Charon (pronounced KARE un) ferried souls across the river to reach the abode of the dead. .

2

"Wretches! ye loved her for her wealth and hated her for her pride;
And when she fell in feeble health, ye blessed her—that she died!
How shall the ritual, then, be read?—the requiem how be sung
By you—by yours, the evil eye,—by yours, the slanderous tongue
That did to death the innocence that died, and died so young?"

Stanza 2 Summary: The speaker is Lenore's lover, Guy de Vere. He lashes out at the Stanza 1 speaker and his friends, calling them wretches and asserting that the kind and loving words spoken in Stanza 1 are hypocrisy. After all, de Vere says, the Stanza 1 speaker and his friends loved her only for her wealth and despised her for her rightful pride in herself. When Lenore died, de Vere says, the Stanza 1 speaker even pronounced a blessing in jubilation at her death. De Vere asks how the funeral rites can take take place with dignity and respect when hypocrites pretend to honor Lenore.

requiem: In Roman Catholic theology, a Mass for a dead person; any funeral rite; a funeral song. In Latin, requiem means rest (as in May she rest in peace)
slanderous tongue: De Vere accuses the speaker of having slandered Lenore...

3

Peccavimus; but rave not thus! and let a Sabbath song
Go up to God so solemnly the dead may feel no wrong.
The sweet Lenore hath "gone before," with Hope, that flew beside,
Leaving thee wild for the dear child that should have been thy bride.
For her, the fair and debonair, that now so lowly lies,
The life upon her yellow hair but not within her eyes
The life still there, upon her hair, the death upon her eyes.

Stanza 3 Summary: The speaker from Stanza 1 tells de Vere "we have sinned" (peccavimus). But he tells de Vere to stop raving with accusations, for he believes Lenore was a sweet and loving person. De Vere is wildly angry, the speaker says, because Lenore died before de Vere could marry her. She still looks lovely, with life in her yellow hair, but not in her eyes. 

Peccavimus (pronounced pec AH ve mus): Latin for we have sinned.

4

"Avaunt! avaunt! from fiends below, the indignant ghost is riven
From Hell unto a high estate far up within the Heaven—
From grief and groan, to a golden throne, beside the King of Heaven!
Let no bell toll, then, lest her soul, amid its hallowed mirth,
Should catch the note as it doth float up from the damnèd Earth!
And I!—to-night my heart is light!—no dirge will I upraise,
But waft the angel on her flight with a Paean of old days!"

Stanza 4 Summary: De Vere again speaks. He says Lenore rises up from the Stygian depths and takes her place on a golden throne beside God himself. There she knows no grief or sadness. Therefore, no bell should toll for her, he says, lest its peal should rise up from earth and disturb her contented soul. De Vere ends by saying that he is happy and will sing no funeral songs. Instead, he will speed her soul to heaven with a hymn of joy and thanksgiving.

Avaunt: Go away; begone; get thee hence; fly away.
riven: torn apart; split. Here, de Vere says Lenore has been torn away from the Underworld and taken into heaven
Paean(pronounced PE in): song of joy, praise, triumph, or thanksgiving.

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Original Version (1831) of the Poem, Entitled "A Paean"
 

     How shall the burial rite be read?
    The solemn song be sung ?
    The requiem for the loveliest dead,
    That ever died so young?

II.

    Her friends are gazing on her,
And on her gaudy bier,
    And weep ! — oh! to dishonor
   Dead beauty with a tear!

III.

   They loved her for her wealth —
And they hated her for her pride —
But she grew in feeble health,
And they love her — that she died.

IV.

    They tell me (while they speak
      Of her "costly broider'd pall")
    That my voice is growing weak —
  That I should not sing at all —

V.

    Or that my tone should be
    Tun'd to such solemn song
    So mournfully — so mournfully,
  That the dead may feel no wrong.

VI.

    But she is gone above,
With young Hope at her side,
    And I am drunk with love
Of the dead, who is my bride. —

VII.

    Of the dead — dead who lies
      All perfum'd there,
   With the death upon her eyes,
And the life upon her hair.

VIII.

    Thus on the coffin loud and long
    I strike — the murmur sent
    Through the grey chambers to my song,
        Shall be the accompaniment.

IX.

   Thou died'st in thy life's June —
But thou did'st not die too fair:
Thou did'st not die too soon,
Nor with too calm an air.

X.

    From more than fiends on earth,
Thy life and love are riven,
    To join the untainted mirth
    Of more than thrones in heaven —

XII.

    Therefore, to thee this night
     I will no requiem raise,
    But waft thee on thy flight,
        With a Pæan of old days.
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